The constitution of the United States provides that no person shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, and no state can by any statutory provision take away from a criminal the benefit of this provision. Whenever statutes give any right to the state to have a review of a criminal trial, they must be construed with regard to the constitutional prohibition. - The supreme court of the United States exercises an appellate jurisdiction over the state courts,where the validity of a treaty or statute of, or authority exercised under, the United States is drawn in question, and the decision is against that validity; or where the validity of any state authority is drawn in question on the ground of its repugnancy to the constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States, and the decision is in favor of its validity; or where a question of construction upon the constitution, a treaty, or a statute of the United States arises, and the decision is against the claim under the authority of either. All civil causes, where the amount involved is sufficient, may be carried on appeal from the United States district court to the circuit court, and thence to the supreme court.
The circuit courts exercise an appellate jurisdiction over all cases brought in the district courts, except where the matter in controversy is of a very small pecuniary value. Another mode of review in the supreme court is that upon a case certified from a circuit court. As this court may consist of two judges, they may, when they fail to agree, certify to the supreme court that they are divided in opinion, and in that event the case is entertained by the higher tribunal as upon an appeal. (See Courts of the United States.) - In New York the court of appeals is a court of appellate jurisdiction only. It has been lately reorganized under an amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1869. The amendment provides that the court shall consist of a chief justice and six associate judges, to be chosen by the electors of the state, and to hold office for 14 years. Five members of the court constitute a quorum, and the concurrence of four is essential to a decision. The present court has all the powers and jurisdiction which were possessed by the late court of appeals, which it displaced.
It has exclusive jurisdiction to review upon appeal any actual determination made at a general term by the supreme court, by the superior courts of New York and Buffalo, and by the court of common pleas of the city of New York in certain specified cases, among which the more important are the following: Upon appeal from a decision of any of these courts on final judgments in an action brought originally in it or removed into it from another court, it may reverse, affirm, or modify such judgment, or review any order in the case which involved the merits. The court also entertains appeals from orders affecting substantial rights when they in effect determine the action and prevent judgments from which appeals might be taken; or when such orders discontinue actions, or grant or refuse new trials, or strike out pleadings. But no appeal lies to the court of appeals from an order granting a new trial on a case or exceptions, unless the appellant with his notice of appeal gives also a consent that if the order appealed from be affirmed, absolute and final judgment may be forthwith entered against him.
When the decision of any motion at a special term of the supreme court involves or is rested upon the constitutionality of any law of the state, an appeal may be taken first to the general term of that court, and thence to the court of appeals. No appeal to this court stays execution on a judgment unless it is accompanied with a bond securing payment of the judgment upon an affirmance or a dismissal of the appeal. - In England, the appellate jurisdiction of the court of chancery, where equity causes are heard originally by the master of the rolls or by the vice chancellors, is exercised by the lord chancellor alone, or sitting with one or both of the lords justices, or by these two alone. With respect to appeals in civil causes tried in either of the three superior courts (queen's bench, common pleas, and exchequer), the first appeal lies to the court of exchequer chamber, where the causes coming from either of the three are heard by the judges of the other two. In criminal cases appeals on questions of law arising in the courts of oyer and terminer or quarter sessions may go through the queen's bench to the exchequer chamber, but they are usually taken directly to the court for crown cases reserved.
This latter court was created in 1848, and is composed of the judges of the three superior courts. It has final authority on questions raised by evidence, or in arrest of judgment; but on more important questions, like demurrers to indictments, the appellant may go through the queen's bench to the exchequer chamber, and thence to the house of lords. The house of lords is the supreme appellate judicature of the realm. By its ancient jurisdiction it reviews all errors brought up through the exchequer chamber from the common law courts of England and Ireland, and under more recent authority it entertains appeals from judgments of Scotch courts on questions of law. The house of lords also takes cognizance upon appeals of errors in criminal causes from all the inferior jurisdictions, except where the court for crown cases reserved has the final decision; and in chancery cases it hears appeals from all the English and Irish equity courts. By recent statutes appeals may also be taken to the house of lords from the probate courts of England and Ireland. There have been lately some emphatic complaints made about the weakness of the house of lords as an appellate court.
Its decisions upon appeals are practically left entirely to the law lords, and it has not unfrequently happened that two or three of these have reversed judgments which had been sustained by a majority of the judges of the courts below. In one case of a recent date the prevailing judgment of the house of lords, given in fact by two persons only, coincided with the opinion of only four judges below, while the defeated party had had altogether seven judges in his favor. In another case the party who succeeded in the house of lords had had in the course of the suit through all the courts only four judges in all in his favor, while his opponent had had eight. Another supreme appellate tribunal is that of the queen in council. The judicial functions of the crown are however in fact delegated to the judicial committee of the privy council. This court revises judgments of the colonial courts throughout the empire, and sentences of the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts. The committee after consideration make their report to the crown, and its approval is signified by an order in council. - In France, incorrect decisions are also held in check by a system of appeals.